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Risk Factors for Today's School Age Youth (part 1 of 3)

Paladin Academy (PA) is a public charter high school located in Minnesota.  The school has been in operation for ten years. Since the school's inception, the program has drawn students for whom other educational programs have been unsuccessful. This was not necessarily the intent of the program, however, the educational approach, the support provided to students, and small setting seemed to be a natural fit for the students who needed something different. This three part blog is a summary of 1) the issues and obstacles students at this school are facing in their lives and in their education, 2) the interventions that are being deployed to build resiliency in youth, and 3) the preliminary findings of the success that these students are achieving, both in school, and in their lives beyond high school.  

Until this past summer, school administration had been unfamiliar with ACEs.  However, school personnel were certainly familiar with the impact risk factors were having on a student's educations. Without knowing that there were so many people working to reduce ACEs scores for youth around the country, and even the world, three years ago, school had developed a system called Benchmarks for Success, a name they made up in order to have a reference point for all of the data being collected.  With Benchmarks for Success, school personnel track the number of risk factors each student has, deploy interventions, and track results -  social, behavioral, and academic.  This past summer PA revamped their data collection tools so that in addition to a Benchmark For Success risk score, a student's ACEs score could also be calculated.

ACEs Score for Paladin Academy Students in the 2013-2014 school year: 

0 = 7.6%

1 = 33.6%

2 = 25.2%

3 = 10.7%

4 = 4.6%

5 = 3.1%

6+ = 7.6%

In total, PA collects information on twenty-five factors that are obstacles (risk factors) in a student's education. Even with the use of ACEs, because the school's goal is to improve academic outcomes, PA staff decided to keep the risk factors they were already tracking, but removed the ones that were repetitive with the ACEs questions.  The risk factors that are tracked above and beyond ACEs include: 

  1. Free/Reduced Priced Lunch Eligibility (poverty factor)
  2. Special Education Status (student has a defined learning, behavior, or health disability)
  3. Race (student is a minority)
  4. Criminal Record
  5. Gang Affiliation
  6. Young Parent (student is in high school and has a child)
  7. Home Life Mobility (student has moved more than 5 times in their life)
  8. Educational Mobility (student has attended 3 or more high schools)
  9. Witness to Repetitive Acts of Violence (at home, in community, or other location)
  10. Crime Victim (student has been a victim of violent crime)
  11. Mental/Emotional Health (student has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder - PTSD, Bipolar, Schizophrenic, etc.)
  12. Homelessness (student is currently homeless, or has been persistently homeless in the past.)
  13. Suicidal (student has attempted suicide or has wanted to commit suicide)
  14. Drug Use
  15. Credit Attainment at the time of first enrolling at PA (student is more than one year behind in high school credit)

Paladin Academy has always said that "all" of the students who attend the school are at-risk. But until three years ago, that was just an educated guess.  For the last three years, however, that statement is a fact.  Not one of the students attending PA in the past three years has had less than one risk factor.  In fact, only four students in the past three years have had only one risk factor.  

Benchmark for Success Obstacle Score in the 2013-2014 school year:

  • 41.5% of PA students have 1-5 risk factors
  • 34.6% of PA students have 6-10 risk factors
  • 23.9% of PA students have 11 or more risk factors

These numbers are staggering.  PA has built a reputation for being a school of second chances. In some cases, it has been said, that PA is a student's last chance.  PA is located in an inner ring suburb, on the Northeast side of Minneapolis, MN.  The majority of the students live in the Minneapolis school district, usually on the Northeast side Minneapolis, an area that is well known for its crime and poverty rate.  These students have often been expelled, suspended repetitively, or have dropped out of other schools due to behavior issues and poor academic performance, none of which is surprising in light of the lives these young people have been enduring.  While the cumulative risk factors are staggering, the lives of these students are even more disturbing.  

  • 77.1% have lost a biological parent due to divorce, abandonment, death, or other reason
  • 23.7% have had a parent go to prison
  • 20.5% are homeless (and based on previous years data - 33% in the 2011-2012 school year, and 27% in the 2012-2013 school year) that number will likely increase during the school year
  • 11% are young parents
  • 51.1% have used or do use drugs
  • 98% were at least one year behind in school at the time they enrolled at PA
  • 79% were at least two years behind in school at the time they enrolled at PA

The interventions used by the school to address these obstacles, with the intent to prevent additional ACEs or Benchmarks for Success Obstacles, and to increase a students resiliency will be the topic of the second part of this blog, to be added next week. 

For questions or comments about this information, please feel free to contact me directly via the ACEs inbox or by leaving a comment below. 

~ Leisa Irwin, Executive Director at Paladin Academy

September 27, 2013

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